The Edmonton Oilers met the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday night and lost, dropping a fourth straight and failing to find that scoring we were talking about.
What’s more, the loss was enough to lead some to suggest that the “honeymoon was over” between the Oilers and new head coach Ken Hitchcock. And to an extent, that’s not hyperbole. Edmonton had responded well to the new bench boss, but now they’re 9-6-2 under Hitchcock.
Is it pragmatism? Is the truth about the Oilers settling in?
After all, we know this isn’t a multidimensional team. The 4-2 loss saw Edmonton goals from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl. The Canucks found goals from Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Tyler Motte, and Antoine Roussel. All for Vancouver goals were in the first period, by the way.
And the Oilers are sitting with the end results.
It’s alluring to say that part of the problem, on Thursday at least, was that goalie Mikko Koskinen didn’t look too hot. Vancouver scored on their first two shots. Koskinen, so good for much of December, was lit up by Tampa for five on December 22. He made 39 saves on that contest, but was chased from the net against the Canucks. He finally looked, you know, normal. (NOTE: A previous incarnation of this post stated incorrectly that Koskinen remained in goal against Vancouver.)
Defensively, that seems to tell part of the tale. But shouldn’t the mighty Oilers find a way to, you know, score?
“If we’re going to really grow, we’re going to need more participation,” said Hitchcock Thursday. “We are getting it from people that don’t show up on the score sheet. To me, Caleb Jones was outstanding today and he’s been outstanding since the day we got him. Jesse Puljujarvi has been a good player.”
Undeniably, those are building blocks. Hitchcock is no stranger to singing the praises of young players and Jones’ play in the defensive zone can be traced to success. Or at least opportunities.
The 21-year-old from Arlington was a slow-burn prospect, but he’s now leading the Oilers in even strength Corsi For, Fenwick For and Shots For percentage. That may not mean much for those outside the advanced statistics window, but it does tell the rest of us that Jones can lead the charge and push the puck in the other direction. Now someone just has to push it in the net.
Puljujarvi, too, has a lot going on – even if his part on the scoresheet hasn’t emerged. He’s been on a line with Jujhar Khaira and the Nuge and Hitchcock is a fan, so we could see some growth in that area.
The devil is in the details. But Hitchcock and Co. have to find a way to reposition the pieces to find the scoring. One possibility is the recall of Kailer Yamamoto, who’s been lighting the lamp with regularity on the Condors and may give a boost to the lower echelon of the roster.
Hitchcock’s patience with that lower echelon is fading and for good reason, which suggests that a shakeup may be in order. Not for nothing, but that has to have Milan Lucic looking over his shoulder. Right?